Pamela Adlon talks with Metacritic about building the final season of her FX comedy, 'Better Things.'
Several years ago, when Pamela Adlon forged ahead with her own TV series, she had some lofty goals. Having grown up onscreen and seen "some things," she wanted to create a safe and creative space while delivering meaningful but lasting stories that resonated with others. As a single mom to three girls and admittedly, to her own mother, she also wanted to write what she knew.
Her "fifth child," Better Things, was born.
Fast forward to today, and Adlon has amassed two primetime Emmy nominations and a slew of critical recognition for her FX series. She's also added unquantifiable experience as a producer, writer and director (she directed 44 of the series' 52 episodes, every single installment since Season 2) to her four decades of acting. So, she's feeling a little bittersweet about Better Things debuting its fifth and final season on Feb. 28.
"Now I have this toolkit and it's like I have to hold onto it and I've got to keep my muscles strong," she tells Metacritic. "I feel excited to do other jobs. I feel excited to promote other people and their work and tell stories the way I tell stories."
Bringing Better Things to an end after five seasons was a creative decision, one that Adlon confirmed last fall. She's open to revisiting the series in another shape or form down the road, but for now she's taking time to reassess and pursue other projects after signing a deal to develop and produce both scripted and unscripted projects for FX and other Walt Disney Television divisions back in 2020.
"I had to turn down work to make my show," she says, citing Showtime's upcoming series, The First Lady, as an example. "At a certain point, you have to pioneer your future, and you've got to take on more cost to have a greater outcome."
"It's always our hope that our shows are able to earn enough seasons to allow our creative partners to decide how to bring them to their proper conclusion," Eric Schrier, president, FX Entertainment, said in a statement. "This was the case with Pamela and Better Things, whose fifth and final season puts a perfect exclamation point on her extraordinary, original, beautiful story."
In the final season, Adlon wanted to ensure she served all of the characters with compelling arcs that included "some kind of moment in their village." As she went about crafting those storylines for her three onscreen daughters, Max (Mikey Madison), Frankie (Hannah Riley), and Duke (Olivia Edward), along with her fictional mother Phil (Celia Imrie), she also felt pressured by the COVID of it all. In the end she decided the best way to address the pandemic was by not mentioning it directly.
"There's all kinds of things in the season that are like metaphor for COVID," she reveals. "What happens to everybody is my way of addressing it. De-hoarding, everybody getting back to basics. It was a big awakening for the world and then it just fortified all these storylines for the end of the show."
As for her own character's journey, Adlon shares that Sam has transitioned from that single mom in her 40s who tried to "knock boots" once in a while to someone whose main concern is taking care of what she has.
"To be able to spend time with three generations, and have the kids grow up with their grandmother, I don't think Sam is looking, really, for anything else," she says.
Looking back at the past five seasons — or seven years — of her life, Adlon admits her confidence as a creative has grown. She reveals she still has doubts but being on that stage in charge of an entire crew, plus directing young women during their formative years, forced her to make quick decisions. She also learned to follow her gut and to stay true to the storylines and characters she crafted, despite what sometimes became external pressure to potentially follow certain arcs or narratives.
"You have to get that feeling, that's what it is to me. It's not indifferent. You don't just do the show because you've been doing it five years; this should be a piece of cake," she explains. "This show's gonna run itself — that's not true. And it never should be true. Unless you don't care, and you want something to not have that kind of emotional significance for everybody who experiences it."
For Adlon, that includes laboring over every large and small detail, from the characters and stories, to the camera angles, to what she calls the show's "secret sauce:" the cooking scenes, the art on the walls of her fictional home, and the music that brings it all together.
"Everything matters," she says. "I've always felt the show was a marathon and not a race. Hopefully it will keep being discovered, when the time is right for people. That's what I hope I built — an evergreen show that doesn't have a timestamp on it. That it's just there for everybody and they can take it out whenever they have a feeling. That gives me goosebumps."
Better Things' fifth and final season premieres Feb. 28 at 10 p.m. on FX.